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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Kobe Drops 60 to Drop the Mic on an Unparalleled 20 Year Career

I never thought we would see that again. The last time Kobe Bryant scored at least 60 points in a game was seven years--and many injuries--ago but in his final regular season game Bryant turned back the clock with a performance that can only be described as astounding: 60 points on 22-50 field goal shooting, including 38 points in the second half, 23 points in the fourth quarter and 17 straight points down the stretch as the L.A. Lakers came from behind to beat the Utah Jazz 101-96.  Bryant's breathing was labored by the end of the game, his gait looked wobbly at times and on his two dunk attempts he barely got the ball over the rim but Bryant also displayed deft footwork, tremendous grit/determination and a nice shooting touch inside the three point arc (16-29). Bryant added four rebounds, four assists, one steal, one blocked shot and just two turnovers while playing 42 minutes (including all but the final four seconds of the second half) on a night when the plan was for Bryant--whose minutes have been restricted all season--to play just 32 minutes.

Bryant set the NBA single-game scoring high for the 2015-16 season, he joined Bob Pettit as the second player in NBA history to score at least 40 points in a game versus every team in the league, he became the oldest player to score at least 60 points in a game and he joined Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Rick Barry as the only players to launch at least 50 field goal attempts in a game.

Assuming Bryant is eventually inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame, this performance shatters the previous mark for most points by a Hall of Famer in his final game, set by John Havlicek with 29 points in 1978. Julius Erving, Gail Goodrich, Dave Bing and Maurice Stokes are next on that list with 24 points each.

In a recent interview, Bryant said that if he had the power to turn back time he would not do it because living in the moment would lose all meaning if it were possible to just go back and relive situations until you obtained the desired outcome. The fact that each moment is precious and can never be relived adds "spice" to life, according to Bryant.

If Bryant did not turn back time he at least provided a flashback to a time--not so long ago--when he could dominate games at will. After it was over, he spoke with pride about his daughters watching the game and being old enough now to appreciate his play; he wryly noted that they seemed surprised by how well he played, even after he assured them that he used to do things like this all the time.

During the pregame and halftime shows, Jalen Rose and Doug Collins shared their favorite Kobe Bryant stories. Rose mentioned Bryant's 81 point game, during which Bryant shredded Rose's Toronto Raptors. Rose noted that Bryant had few highlight reel plays in that game and that Bryant did not talk trash or act in a disrespectful manner; Bryant was strictly business--a stone cold basketball assassin--and Rose respects that.

Collins singled out the 2008 Olympics, when Bryant was the star of stars for Team USA during the gold medal game, scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter to make sure that Team USA did not suffer another loss in FIBA play.

Bryant will always be compared to Michael Jordan--a comparison that Bryant openly invited from the start--and Bryant will always fall short, at least numerically in terms of championships, MVPs and scoring titles. However, Bryant deserves credit for setting the bar so high for himself and he is without question the closest thing we have seen to Jordan since Jordan retired; Bryant is the only "heir to Air" whose body and/or mind did not collapse under the pressure of trying to be Jordan's successor. Think about it: Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady were all touted as the next Jordan but none of them even came close; they were not durable enough physically and/or did not have the right mindset. LeBron James has also been compared to Jordan and, even though James is without question one of the greatest players of all-time, he has fallen short of the Jordan standard in terms of championships. James has also repeatedly been outplayed in the NBA Finals by lesser players, something that never happened to Jordan.

Hubie Brown repeatedly emphasized during the telecast how incredible it is that Bryant made the All-NBA Team 15 times and the All-Defensive Team 12 times. Brown stated that the great players get it done at both ends of the court for a sustained period of time.

We all know that Bryant has not been consistently great or particularly efficient this season but it is commendable that he played as well (and as often) as he did considering that he has put in 20 years of service and that he has come back from a torn Achilles, a broken bone in his knee, a chronically injured shoulder and assorted minor ailments.

Bryant has not lost his skills but his body is falling apart, at least in terms of the health that is necessary to play professional basketball at an elite level. It is worth remembering that Bryant sustained the career-altering Achilles injury at 34 years of age in his 17th season, a campaign during which he made the All-NBA First Team and finished fifth in MVP voting. Bryant was carrying an impossible workload as he tried to push, pull and drag the Lakers into the playoffs; he played 319 of a possible 336 minutes in the seven games prior to sustaining the injury.

Bryant's reaction to the injury was remarkable; he stayed in the game and sank two critical free throws, because if he had let someone else shoot the free throws then by rule he would not have been able to reenter the game--and he actually was trying to figure out how to play with a ruptured Achilles tendon! Lakers trainer Gary Vitti recalls that Bryant attempted to manually roll the tendon back down his leg before Bryant walked under his own power back to the locker room. When I first saw that image of Bryant going to the locker room I immediately thought of the times that Paul Pierce and Dwyane Wade left the court in a wheelchair with injuries that were not nearly as serious as Bryant's.

We will never see a player like Bryant again; he had a unique combination of impeccable fundamentals, supreme confidence, relentless competitive drive and willingness/capacity to play at a high level while injured. LeBron James is bigger, stronger and possibly faster than Bryant was at his peak but he does not come close to matching Bryant in any of the aforementioned categories--and that is why Bryant won as many titles in his career's second act as James has won in his entire career thus far.

Piggybacking off of Hubie Brown's comments during the telecast, it is highly unlikely that there will ever be another NBA guard who plays 20 seasons, let alone 20 seasons with the same team while winning five titles, making the All-NBA Team 15 times and earning 12 All-Defensive Team selections.

Bryant is firmly entrenched in pro basketball's Pantheon and his performance in his final game is a fitting tribute to the mental/psychological traits and the basketball skill set that enabled him to be so dominant for such a long period of time.

After the game, Bryant spoke to the home fans, expressed his heartfelt appreciation and then literally dropped the mic at center court after saying, "Mamba out."

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:51 AM


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At Thursday, April 14, 2016 9:08:00 AM, Blogger KevDog said...

Legend. Yes, there will never be another MJ, but as you point out, there will never be another Kobe.

Legendary. I mean, seriously, has there ever been an athlete who combines the greatness with the relentlessness, the spectacular with the mastery of the fundamentals, the toughness with the beauty?

Thing is we don't have an adjective in the English language to describe how Kobe punctuated his career. Last night perfectly encapsulated everything the man has been for the past 20 years. I am speechless.

And ironically, despite all of the great games. 81, 62 in 3, all of the rings, 48/16 against Sacramento, 49/10 against Denver, 83-79, etc, it just might be his last game for which he is most remembered and certainly it is his last game that most reflects him.

At Thursday, April 14, 2016 11:25:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


After watching Kobe struggle physically all season long, I did not expect this--but I am not totally surprised either, if that makes sense.

He has a great sense of the moment.

I don't know if the late shots that he hit fall into the "clutch" category as defined by "stat gurus" but I have always argued that dominating the latter portion of a close game (here, Kobe scored 23 in the fourth and 17 in a row at one point) means more than making a last second desperation shot, which is usually a low percentage opportunity no matter who is shooting the ball.

At Thursday, April 14, 2016 11:37:00 AM, Blogger KevDog said...

Exactly. I think it was Dr. Jack Ramsey who said that Kobe is the most clutch player he's ever seen because he not only makes the game winner, but he makes the shots that bring you back from the deficit and then keeps on making them until the game is won. The stats geeks don't take this into account. They have never competed at anything at a high level I think. In any case, that's one of the reasons I think last night perfectly reflects Kobe's career. Relentless pressure and shot after shot to bring the team back to a win. On his terms, in his way and simply gorgeous to watch. It was as if his body went back to 2013 before the achilles.

At Thursday, April 14, 2016 12:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think any of his shots fall into the supreme clutch category of 'last 24 seconds, within 5 points.'

The thing about this game was that it didn't seem like a gimmicky game at all, at least when the game was being played. Both teams did look awful overall, though. Utah was maybe deflated since they already knew they weren't making the playoffs. But, Utah's defense on Kobe was overall very good and they were playing hard. They were pressuring him hard and bringing double teams some. Kobe went cold, hot, cold, hot, etc. at times. His teammates were feeding him the ball a lot, but he had it going, and LAL needed this type of a performance just to squeak out the win. What was the biggest deficit-15 points? This game seems somewhat similar to his 81-point game when LAL was down 18, and he willed his team to a win with a spectacular performance. I can't believe there was enough time in the game for LAL to go ahead and actually take Kobe out with a big enough cushion.

I sometimes hear Kobe isn't very durable-don't quite understand that. Only 5 players have played 20+seasons, and Kobe is the only guard. I think he's 7th all-time in combined(regular season + playoffs) games played, and 3rd all-time in combined MP.

He's only attempted 40FGA 10x in his career, and 47 was his previous high. Can we even realize how special this game was? There's only been 32 60-point games in the past 53 years in the nba since 64. Only 3 players have multiple such games: Wilt(7), Jordan(4), Kobe(6). Though, Jordan added another in the playoffs; and Wilt had more before 64 and maybe some in the playoffs.

I'm glad Hubie understands the importance of the all-nba teams. For all-nba, Kobe's 1st all-time in total selections(15) and 1st-teams(11). For all-defense, he's 2nd all-time in total selections(12) and 1st all-time for 1st-teams(9).

At Thursday, April 14, 2016 11:07:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

It's interesting that since the game Kobe haters are back in force. It is almost as if they are fuelled by his success. For the record nick I don't consider you a Kobe hater, saying he is the 12th best player of all time is hardly hating. My own stance is that once you reach top 20ish (not an absolute number, could be too big or too small just off the top of my head) arguing about who is better begins to feel a bit nit picky. David's pantheon approach is my preferred stance.

Anyway the thing I respect about Kobe in retrospect is his lack of physical ability compared to his pantheon fellows. Whilst he is a physical freak, I've always felt he was at least a step behind players like michael and Lebron. I personally think many of his contemparies are athletically superior, tmac, Vince carter in his day, not to mention I think he was always carrying some injury.

The thing I find remarkable about Kobe is how much he achieved. I don't think there is any player, including michael, who I would say used his abilities to his absolute maximum potential the way Kobe did. His willpower and need to win is extraordinary. There are no what ifs in Kobe's career, he truly used every bit of his basketball potential.

At Friday, April 15, 2016 1:34:00 AM, Blogger Awet M said...

Watched the game last night, something I almost never do when two lottery-bound teams are on. But it was Kobe's last game, and despite not being a fan, I felt obliged to watch the final game of a legendary figure.

Made me reconsider his career - had Kobe never gotten hurt in the 2013 season, (not to mention subsequent injuries) and played until now, it's reasonable to suppose he would've continued to average 24 a game, plus a few more after this year around 20. He would've broken the all-time scoring record, and pushed the career accolades far beyond reach. Now that's a candidate for the Greatest of All Time.

At Friday, April 15, 2016 11:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's true, Andrew. Very odd. But, when Kobe should be firmly inside top 5 all-time, saying he's only 12th-15th or wherever is huge lowballing him. What if I said Jordan was only the 14th best player ever? Either I don't know what I'm talking about and/or hating. It's some of the things that Nick incorrectly says about Kobe and the double standard he applies only to Kobe that are the bigger issues. If Nick correctly evaluated Kobe as a top 2-3 at worst wing defender all-time, doesn't hold having Phil against him as much or hold other players having great coaches against them as much, and doesn't bizarrely hold 04 and 06 against him, those few things alone would change his views on him greatly. Also, somehow leading a team to a title is very important to Nick regarding some players, but then it doesn't mean much with others, like Pippen. Pippen might be underrated, but Nick puts him #9 all-time. Huh? A 7x AS and only 3x first team all-nba. Pippen was always more comfortable in a #2 role. CHI was good in 94, but still lost in 2nd round. And then what happens after his CHI's days? He only once made it out of the 1st round. Pippen is one of David's favorite players, and doesn't even consider him one of the elites. Most of the guys Nick puts ahead of Kobe accomplished much less throughout their careers. Just not very consistent.

Kobe is up there athletically, but you're right not quite there compared to a few others. T-MAC was very athletic, but not sure if he was more than Kobe. Vince could jump higher, but was he faster/quicker? Kobe made it up for working harder and being the most skilled player in nba history. Hard to say, but James might have best combination of athleticism/skill.

At Saturday, April 16, 2016 3:05:00 AM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

I suppose if someone said to me that MJ was the 12th best player of all time I wouldn't engage. In general people who make statements like this have an agenda, and cannot be convinced otherwise. I don't think I've ever seen an argument along those lines where it didn't degenerate into trashing one or more players careers which is unnecessary. Again that's why the pantheon approach is best, because no-one is rigorously ranked and all of the players careers are celebrated. You talk about achievements instead of arguing about failures, which I find tiring. I can't be bothered talking about Kobe's Detroit series, or that Tim Duncan hasn't always dominated games as you might expect from MJ or Shaq et al. I'd rather chat about the great things both those players did.

WRT athleticism I think Lebron is one of the most athletically gifted players in history. It is one of the reasons I think it is disappointing he never went in the Slam Dunk Contest. Whether it is correct or not, I sometimes get the feeling Lebron is afraid to lose, and so would rather not try. The Slam Dunk Contest is a good example of why I feel this way.

At Saturday, April 16, 2016 12:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about the pantheon approach, but it is one way of doing it. However, David has said several times that he thinks Jordan was better than Kobe. But, I've never heard him rate the other players in his pantheon amongst themselves, though he may have, so I'm a bit confused.

But, if you have 14-15 players in your pantheon, and you don't rate them 1-15. If someone says Jordan is 12th, then you have to agree, nothing wrong with this. That wouldn't be correct nor wrong to you. Jordan is so respected by almost everyone, much different than Kobe. If you actually look at everything between the two, Kobe still comes out ahead in several areas, and maybe had just a slightly worse career, at worst.

Yep, James is definitely afraid to lose if you look at his career overall. It's between Wilt and James as most athletic players in nba history. James has accomplished a lot, but he hasn't maximized his abilities. Kobe is probably the best in-game dunker in nba history. James's dunks are just jumping really high, which is great, but then straight dunking. It's usually more fun watching great athletes in general, but watching James has never really excited me much, at least compared to guys like Jordan, Kobe, or even Westbrook. It's just mostly raw athleticism with him.

At Saturday, April 16, 2016 2:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Just to clarify, I believe that a good case for greatest of all-time status could be made for each player in my Pantheon, depending on the criteria used. I think that a stronger case could be made for some Pantheon players than others but I distinguish the Pantheon players from players about whom I think it would be more difficult to make such a case. Scottie Pippen is my second favorite player of all-time behind Julius Erving but I don't think that a credible greatest player of all-time argument could be made on his behalf the way that one could for Chamberlain or Russell or Jordan or Bryant, etc.

That said, it is my opinion that a stronger argument could be made for Jordan than for Bryant but the difference between the two players is much less than most analysts and fans often seem to think that it is. I would trust Jordan's postup game a little more than I would trust Bryant's and I think that Jordan was a slightly better defender. Again, this is splitting hairs about two legit greatest of all-time candidates.

As Andrew suggested, I don't see great value in nitpicking among the various greatest player of all-time candidates. I prefer to separate the Pantheon from the near Pantheon and then just focus on the positives regarding the Pantheon players.

I expressed my Jordan-Bryant opinion several years ago in response to people who kept saying that Bryant is my favorite player and that I have called him the greatest player of all-time. He is not my favorite player, though of course I have very much enjoyed watching him. I have never categorically called Bryant the greatest player of all-time; I have put him on the short list of players who are in that conversation and I have said that if I were forced to choose I would take Jordan--but not by much.

At Saturday, April 16, 2016 5:26:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I don't wanna engage with most of this, but I would say that the "list' of mine that gets brought up so often was a result of being asked to specifically rate guys; in general I agree with a more pantheon-y approach to, although mine would probably be more specifically broken into four tiers. I think 1-4, 5-8, 9-14, and 15-20 are all more-or-less interchangeable within themselves, but I have a hard time taking guys from one of the lower groupings above anyone in the higher ones.

At Saturday, April 16, 2016 11:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fair enough about Kobe/Jordan comparison. Yes, I remember it was usually responding to other posters. That's not really the pantheon approach, but even if someone uses the pantheon approach, that person is still going to have his own ratings of each player. You still have to rate players as to whether or not they deserve pantheon status. I agree with all your pantheon players except for Baylor and possibly West, or if they're included a few other guys need to be, too.

Nick, it's not just Pippen, who was a great player in his own right, though that's your most peculiar player ranking. If you do choose to individually rank the top players, you need to be consistent with each player and get the facts straight at least for each. No surprise we can't agree on almost anything if you think someone like Pippen was better than guys like Magic or Kobe. I don't understand how that is even a conversation.

At Sunday, April 17, 2016 11:25:00 AM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

The biggest problem with all these arguments is no-one seems to be able to agree on what exactly defines the "best" player. Is it based on career achievements/accolades or on who you would pick to play the Martians in Space Jam? If we are talking about Pippen for example he is way higher on the latter list than the former in my estimation, maybe even above a guy like Magic. If I say that though it will instantly get shot down by people who think I am saying Pippen had better career achievements than Magic, which is absolutely false. Magic is my all time favourite player so the above is not a shot at Magic, I just think Pippen is that valuable to a team, even if he isn't what I would call a "Number 1 guy," of which Magic is one of the greatest.

At Sunday, April 17, 2016 11:49:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...


I definitely hew closer to the Martians argument. Obviously Magic had more accolades, but if I have to bet my life on the way somebody's going to play basketball, I'd take Pippen over him in a heartbeat.

Magic is probably one of the five best offensive players of all-time. But he was a mediocre defender (though an excellent rebounder) who often needed to be hidden/protected on that end. Pippin's arguably the greatest perimeter defender of all time (though I personally might take Bobby Jones by a nose), but was also an A- level offensive threat. That's a no-brainer for me; I want the guy who gives me star production on both ends.

The other thing that makes it tricky for me with Magic (also with Bird, and with Bill Russell, but that's a different argument) is that he spent his entire career on All-Star teams. The Lakers were probably playoff-bound even without him every year of his career], and those gaudy assist numbers were probably replicable for any top-flight PG if they got to hang out with Kareem/Worthy/Nixon/Wilkes/McAdoo/Green/Scott their whole career. While Pippen spent most of his career with Jordan, we at least saw in '95 that he could still contend without that kinda A+ firepower beside him. I don't know that Magic with the equivalent of the '94 Bulls is a 55 win guy.

At Sunday, April 17, 2016 1:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That might be part of it, but I don't think that's that big of an issue. If everyone stayed consistent and at least got the facts straight about each player, then there would be a lot more agreement.

I feel like and it seems very obvious that Kobe is the big question mark with so many people. He'll never get fair analysis. It's just like the magical # of shots he needs to shoot each game; otherwise, he's either being a ballhog hurting his team or pouting and trying to make some point. I think I figured it out though, he needs to be at 18-19FGA every game. He is analyzed like no other player in nba history, and it really isn't very close. Nobody gets blamed for having good teammates except Kobe. Whatever you look at, whether it is team success relative to your teammates, longevity, peak, years at the top, individual achievements, ability to succeed in different roles/situations with any teammates, consistently performing at high levels in the playoffs, achieving what you should achieve and sometimes more, and not underachieving, it's really hard to find to find 4-5 guys that had better careers than him. Maybe he only deserved 3 MVPs as David claims, but he was the best player in the nba from 06-10(playoffs count). That's 5 straight years. And he has a strong case from 03-05 as well, and several other years knocking on the door.

At this stage in nba history, it's really hard to be considered one the elite elites or in the greatest-ever conversation without leading a team to a title. I'm not really sure what you're saying about Pippen, though. I think it's great he accepted his #2 role, not all the top players could've done this. He could've possibly led a team to a title, but he never seemed geared to doing that. Magic was and brought out the best in his teammates. Pippen was only a 7x AS, 3x all-nba 1st-team, and maybe MVP candidate/fringe candidate 4x, and maybe only serious candidate once. His peak was shorter and not that high. He had a great career, but it just doesn't stack up to many others players, including Magic. Magic/Pippen is a great example of where we see the difference in importance between offense/defense. Pippen kills Magic defensively. Magic certainly has edge offensively, but not quite as much. But, Magic should be thought of as much better. And it's not all seen in the box score or player evaluations. Magic was a great leader and had the intangibles, not that Pippen necessarily didn't have some of these qualities. When Pippen was Jordan's sidekick, it wasn't like Kobe to Shaq. Kobe became a dominant force on both sides of the ball, the premier wing in the league, and a legit perennial MVP candidate. Pippen was never the 1A option like Kobe, he was always the #2 option.

At Monday, April 18, 2016 2:08:00 PM, Anonymous Jodial said...

David, I really enjoy reading you, and appreciate the great contributions all your readers make.

This is my first time posting here - I just felt compelled to write something about Kobe's career and his final game. Kobe's about the most polarizing athlete we've ever seen, so I'm not surprised that there's been some predictable backlash following this performance.

It's still hard for me to understand how critics label Kobe as a selfish player who somehow "left championships on the table" because of his personality or style of play. If you're counting championships, I would think that winning five titles nullifies that criticism instantly. Here is a list of the players who have won 5 or more titles in the last half century, as the #1 or #2 player on their team:


That's a pretty exclusive list. No one says Larry Bird or Hakeem Olajuwon failed to live up to their championship potential; Kobe won as many titles as those two guys combined. No one accuses Jordan of "leaving championships on the table", although that's exactly what he did when he retired (twice).

But Kobe isn't just a championship basketball player. He is a STAR. He infused his entire career with a particular flair that few ever bring to the court - star power is impossible to quantify, but we all know it when we see it. Julius Erving was the same kind of star - you'd watch him play regardless of the score. Those guys don't come around very often. You can make an argument that Tim Duncan has had a greater career than Kobe Bryant (I don't agree, but he can make a case), but no one's ever called a friend late on some random January night and said, "You've got to turn on ESPN right now to see what Duncan is doing!"

The only guys on that 5-ring list who had that kind of star power are Magic, Jordan, and Kobe. And the only one of those three who made an exit that came close to befitting their legend was Kobe…and I think it's safe to say he blew way past whatever anyone could have reasonably expected from him in that final game.

The last three seasons have been incredibly trying for Laker fans, and very sad for those of us who have watched Kobe's entire career, but he managed to erase all that frustration in one night, when all the attention and pressure in the world was on him and him alone. I've seen so many games where Kobe made amazing shots to pull his team back from a huge deficit, but missed the final shot that would have completed the comeback - I kept waiting for one of his final shots to just fall short, and wake everyone from the dream, and none of them missed. I thought it was particularly poetic that he iced the game at the same free throw line where he drained two free throws immediately after rupturing his Achilles, 3 years to the day after his surgery.

Kobe was a unique player, and difficult in many ways. He is not above criticism, but so much of what people write or say about him is just a litmus test of their own prejudices. People who don't like his style of ball, or don't want to take Jordan off his pedestal, or who just don't like the Lakers, are always going to have plenty to say about him. But none of that has anything to do with what he did on the court these last 20 years.

Anyway, just wanted to share some thoughts. I've always appreciate your ability to evaluate players objectively!

Oh, and just one more stat for those who think Kobe's "gunning" kept the Lakers from winning - the Lakers went 6-0 in games when Kobe scored 60 points or more.

At Monday, April 18, 2016 3:55:00 PM, Anonymous Space Ghost said...

What a magical game. Could not believe what I was seeing in the last 3 minutes. Glad Kobe did it one last time. Great article David.

At Tuesday, April 19, 2016 3:14:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Kobe clearly deserved at least three MVPs. A good case could be made that he deserved more than three but I could also make--or at least accept--valid arguments for other players in those other seasons. It is rudiculous that Kobe only won one MVP.

At Tuesday, April 19, 2016 3:16:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you for sharing those thoughts. You eloquently made many excellent points.


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